11 May 2015
dave's picture

As I was working on an idea for a new sitcom character the other day, I heard myself asking this question of him - why is he always getting into scrapes?
It's a phrase that will be familiar to anyone over 40, it was the kind of thing that used to be written about characters like William from the Richmal Crompton 'Just William' books, it belongs to a bygone era of cheeky chappies with grazed knees and short trousers covered in mud, it predates the teenager, glue sniffing, video games, Zoella or whatever it is that kids are running with today.
But it feels like the perfect question to ask of a sitcom character. The reason I think this is because once I asked the question, I found I could answer it for every successful sitcom character I could think of.
Not only that, but the answer also told the story of almost every episode that character had appeared in. I found that once I started to think about how these answers worked for my new character, it quickly brought to life something that I'd been theorising around.
So here, in no special order, pretty much how they came out of my head as I thought of them, is a list of answers to the question, followed by the character or characters who fit that answer. Sometimes I've added cliche phrases, we don't of course use cliches in our own writing, but they're a very good shorthand method of helping you to visualise the person you want to write about.
1. Because they speak their mind, then try and make amends and compound the initial mistake. (They 'don't suffer fools gladly')
Larry David
Frasier Crane
2. Because they are gullible.
Frank Spencer
Homer Simpson
3. Because they are quick to anger.
Victor Meldrew
4. Because they're trying to be something they can never be. ('square peg in a round hole')
Edina Monsoon (young again)
Captain Mainwaring/ Brittas (in authority)
Reggie Perrin (a corporate man)
Hyacinth Bouquet / Citizen Khan (social climbers)
Harold Steptoe - independent of his dad
5. Because they have their 'eye on the main chance', and that usually involves acting deviously.
Father Ted
6. Because they don't say what they mean.
Ann Bryce (Ever Decreasing Circles)
7. Because they're never satisfied ('the grass is always greener on the other side')
Ria Parkinson (Butterflies)
8. Because they lack self-awareness
David Brent
Alan Partridge
9. Because they don't follow the courage of their convictions/are cowards.
Jim Hacker (Yes Minister/ Yes Prime Minister)
10. Because they do crazy things/act like children
11. Because they take up too much space around them ('larger than life')
Miranda (literally in her case and the case of the sitcom)
12. Because they don't fit in ('fish out of water')
Vicar of Dibley
13. Because they are at odds with authority
Terry (Likely Lads)
14. Because they're always covering up for their families
Mrs Brown
Mrs Boswell (Bread)
15. Because they are 100% unsuited to the job they are doing:
Basil Fawlty
Bernard Black (Black Books)
16. Because however much they try and escape the past, someone keeps dragging them back:
Bob (Likely Lads)
17. Because they have 'ideas above their station':
Selena (Veep)
18. Because they will do anything to avoid confrontation:
Abbot (Thick Of It)
19. Because they can’t have the thing they want more than anything
Lee (Not Going Out)
20. Because they have trouble with social communication
Moss (IT Crowd)
21. Because they think they’re better than the people around them.
Hyacinth (again)
Basil (again)
22. Because they are manipulative.
Sir Humphrey
This isn't an exhaustive list, I just carried on writing until the ideas started to dry up, and left the list as it stands. I'm sure there are other answers, and other obvious characters I'm bound to have missed.
Do let me know if you can think of any others.

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